Upon first listen, the music of Church seems simple. But this is deceptive: While minimal and often stark—sounding at times like a black void of nothingness consuming itself—Church's music is built upon countless depths and subtleties. Even passages with long, drawn-out synth chords and an occasional thump from a floor tom can bear intensely close examination. Like the structure of an ornate cathedral, the music of the Portland band that calls themselves Church is roomy, functional, and inspiring; like the workmanship of a church's intricate flutings and ornaments, the band's songs are gorgeously assembled, down to the finest detail.
"We wanted from the beginning for Church to have a distinct sound where every part of the music has purpose," says guitarist Brandon Laws, who shares vocals with his brother Richard. "We value the space in between the notes as much as the notes themselves."
Adds keyboardist Cristof Hendrickson, "We base most of our songs around analog sounds: Moog bass, white noise, analog delay, Class A power tube distortion, true-bypass, that kind of stuff. Tone is everything."
The trio formed Church at the end of 2007, and their second EP, Gold, is being released via local label Sohitek. Indeed, Gold is reliant upon a very careful balance of sound, and the vintage synths and spare cluttering of Richard's small drum setup give the EP its signature sound. "Right as Rain" begins with a boom of artificial echo, as creeping synths twinkle and moan. Richard's high voice lazily ties a rope around the melody so when the percussion and guitar enter, they can firmly cinch it down with an ascending chord progression.
"Cloud" explodes a folk ballad to stratospheric boundaries; the brothers' reverent Simon and Garfunkel harmonies slowly build to an emotional climax that is the breathtaking highlight of the four-song EP. "King Crow" initially seems like a jaunty back porch tune, with picking from acoustic guitar and banjo, but before long a fat analog synth sits right atop of the chords, smothering them with juicy, distorted thickness, and eventually white noise envelopes the track like a huge wave breaking over a boulder. When the noise recedes, voice and electric guitar ask forgiveness. The EP closes with "Happiness," the closest thing Church have to a dance number, with keyboard and guitar doubling a looping riff and minimal drums suggesting a street carnival samba line.
Church have a 10-inch in the works for next year and they've picked up a fourth member in drummer Lane Barrington from the Ocean Floor. "We have a handful of songs written with him that would not have been possible without him," says Brandon. "Having two drummers has really changed the way we approach music."
In the meantime, Gold is celebrating not one but two release shows this week: a bar show at Kelly's Olympian and an all-ages show at the Hush. "I prefer playing all-ages shows because I don't want to turn anyone away," says Richard. Adds Brandon, "It seems like once people are old enough to drink they also have to work and they generally don't let themselves enjoy life as much."
"We still prefer a packed basement show over just about any bar in town," agrees Hendrickson. "The high school kids here are cooler than in any other city I've seen, and they will actually buy your album."